Letters to the Editor

Published the week of July 12-18, 2000

1. The team with the highest payroll has only missed the playoffs once during these seven years. The team with the second-highest payroll has only missed the playoffs twice during these seven years.

2. During these seven years, only two teams with below-average payrolls have made the playoffs, Houston in 1997 and Philadelphia in 1993. Therefore, out of 48 playoff spots, about 4 percent went to teams with below-average payrolls. In fact, only four teams with salaries less than 110 percent of the average made the playoffs.

3. In these seven years, 10 of the 14 World Series teams (71 percent) were teams with top-five payrolls.

4. No team with a payroll in the bottom 10 has made the playoffs in these seven years.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. In fact, I think it is quite easy to argue that the teams willing to spend the most money win more often. Does a high payroll guarantee success? Obviously not. Does a low payroll guarantee failure? Almost always.

The NL is falling into line as payrolls would suggest. How does one explain Oakland, Chicago and Toronto in 2000? Chicago is a good team. They have distanced themselves from the pack and will almost certainly become the first team in many years to make the playoffs with a bottom-10 payroll. The fates of Oakland and Toronto are still up in the air. I think it is interesting that both Toronto and Chicago had upper-half payrolls as recently as 1997. Both teams had desired players with relatively high salaries. They traded many of these players for younger, lower-paid prospects. I suspect that this younger talent is no small part of their current success. I think it would be difficult to prove, but I believe both of these teams have benefited from being high-payroll teams in the past. This leaves only Oakland as a consistently low-payroll team to contend for a playoff spot this year. So let's tip our hats to their GM, who is either vastly more competent or lucky than his brethren.

Now, does the existence of one or even three exceptions mean that we have suddenly entered an era where the payroll doesn't matter? I don't think so. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the belief that higher-payroll teams are more likely to make it to the postseason.

If you've made it this far, let me thank you for your time and offer up what I believe is some constructive criticism. What does any of this have to do with spending $350 million in taxpayer money to finance a new stadium? If I have convinced you that payrolls matter, do you believe we should go ahead and fork out the money? Of course not. There are bigger, more fundamental issues here. Why are you wasting your time addressing the effects of payroll on winning percentage? Wouldn't your time be better spent explaining why it is right or wrong for public money to finance private enterprise?

Obviously, I'm a baseball fan. I'm also a season-ticket holder and a resident of the city. I would love to see the Cardinals in a sparkling new brick stadium. However, I am also against city funding (not public funding) for a $350 million megaplex. Oddly enough, I haven't taken the time to sit down and review their plans. I know everything I need to know -- $350 million.

I'm curious, though. Do you oppose all public funding, or only the obscene amounts that have been discussed? If we need a complex, complete with shopping and apartments, let the private sector finance it. However ... Houston built a stadium with a retractable roof for $250 million. We don't need a retractable roof. That's got to knock $50 million off the top, doesn't it? I believe it was the RFT that said naming rights were worth about $100 million. Does anyone believe A-B isn't going to pony up the dough for the naming rights? That leaves roughly $100 million. Well, I don't think it is outrageous for the owners to pick up a piece of that. Let's say $50 million. That leaves only $50 million for the region to come up with. Obviously these are rough numbers, and it is still $50 million of taxpayer money. (Can parking-garage money help pay this debt?) Then let's give the stadium to owners with a few restrictions regarding if and when it could be sold. I suspect they can run it better than the city.

It is difficult to put a value on the benefit the city receives from having the team. Clearly it brings in some tourists from outside the immediate region. Clearly it brings dollars into the city that would have been spent elsewhere in the region or outside the St. Louis area. Psychologically, I suspect, losing the team to the county or East St. Louis would be a blow to the city. Does anyone believe St. Louis does not have an image problem? The Cardinals (and other sports franchises) help keep this image from slipping further.

What is a fair price for the public to pay to help support a private enterprise? Maybe nothing, but let's not pretend that the city benefits from its association with Ralston Purina or Drury Inns in the same way that it benefits from its association with the Cardinals. Lets have an honest discussion about what is fair for the city and surrounding counties to kick in. I think it is somewhat larger than $0 and somewhere far less than $350 million.
Joe Fuller

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